Marvel churns out a girl-power legal comedy
One of the few remaining major Marvel characters to never receive a live-action adaptation (until now), She-Hulk has been a crowd favorite since Stan Lee co-created her in 1979. He originally conceived her as a blocker so the CBS Incredible Hulk series didn’t introduce a lady Hulk character, thereby creating copyright issues. Now she’s here on Disney+, in all her foxy green hair-tossing lean-in glory. Mileage may vary for viewers, but it’s definitely the character comics fans have grown to know.
In the comics Jennifer Walters, the cousin of Bruce Banner, the Hulk, is an attorney. After a near-fatal shooting at the hands of a mobster, she gets a Gamma-tinted blood transfusion, transforming her into a somewhat less out-of-control version of The Hulk. The main difference is that, eventually, Jen can control her changes back and forth to She-Hulk, while retaining her intelligence and her wry sense of humor in either form.
In the 1980s, after a successful stint in The Fantastic Four, She-Hulk went postmodern at the hands of comics writer John Byrne, turning into a leg-warmer-wearing, fourth-wall-breaking sex kitten, establishing herself of Marvel’s favorite wink-at-the-camera character. A more recent iteration finds her working as an advocate for various superheroes and supervillains in legal trouble, while only occasionally Hulking out and throwing people through buildings.
And that’s where the TV series, She-Hulk: Attorney At Law finds us. The pilot episode, which is all I’ve seen, gets Jen’s transformation into She-Hulk over within the first five minutes so it can get us to the matter at hand: A wacky superhero sitcom. Jen is a 6’7″ green Ally McBeal, with overtones of Carrie Bradshaw and other talk-to-the-camera heroines. The episode spends 75 percent of its time in Mexico, where Mark Ruffalo, as “Smart Hulk,” puts Jen through an elaborate and largely goofy training montage, which she only sort of needs since she can control her changes and appears to be so good at yoga.
Tatiana Maslany, who plays Jen Walters/She-Hulk, is a relatively petite 5’4″ in real life, so her transformation into She-Hulk carries a little more weight than if Marvel had cast a WNBA player in the role. She wears her snark lightly and embodies the role as well as anyone possibly could. The pilot’s concluding courtroom scene sets things up for what looks like a faithful, light, and basically fun adaptation of the current She-Hulk comics, even if it isn’t nearly as funny as it wants to be. In addition to carrying herself in the courtroom, she seems primed to carry herself in the bedroom, leading to one of my favorite memes of the month, a update of the old “Death By Snu Snu” chestnut. Having taken a survey of at least two men, this is a more common fantasy than you might think.
The major problem with She-Hulk: Attorney At Law is a problem with the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole: Its treatment of The Incredible Hulk. Marvel has taken one of the most awesome, fun, and also tragic characters in all of popular culture and turned him into a bumbling, whining doofus. The Hulk is the male id personified, which is why he’s so popular. The choice to emasculate him makes some narrative sense, because the MCU currently lacks a scientific genius with the death of Iron Man. But it’s also boring. Hulk needs to smash.
She-Hulk joins a growing pantheon of strong Marvel women, alongside Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, The Scarlet Witch, Monica Rambeau, Kate Bishop, and the soon-to-be female Black Panther, among others, with more to come. It’s the strongest lineup of female superheroes imaginable, and they’re going to need a lawyer in whatever sexual harassment suits are coming their way. But strong women doesn’t necessarily require weak men. She-Hulk is supposed to be Hulk’s friend, cousin, and ally. She might be an improvement on the original model, but she’s not supposed to kick his ass.